Tag Archives: ebook

Analog IMDB

I was at my usual comix retail establishment, engaged in one of our usual high-level cultural debates, when the talk inevitably turned to the subject of Burt Reynolds’ late oeuvre. We were exploring the fascinating dichotomy between his Hairpiece movies (which are usually very bad) and his No Hairpiece movies or  (which are usually good or even very good).

We had already dispensed with “Boogie Nights,” agreeing that for the purposes of our discussion, a hairpiece which was age-appropriate in both color and hairline would be regarded as a “No Hairpiece” production.

“He was pretty good in that movie he was in about ten years ago,” someone said. “He’s a retired burglar, and he starts teaching this young crook…damn, I can’t think of the title…”

Instinctively I reached for my iPhone and prepared to launch IMDB. But before I’d thumbed the button to wake the screen, Steve (the store’s proprietor) had fished a copy of the Leonard Maltin Film Guide from behind the counter and began flipping through it:




This book is not unfamiliar to me. I used to keep current with all of the master movie reference books: your Roger Ebert guide and your Halliwell guide and your Psychotronic guide, et al. I bought a fresh copy every time any of these were updated and kept them on the reference shelf near my desk, to handle just this sort of question, or to serve me with anywhere from ten minutes to three hours of nonproductive distraction from whatever it is I was meant to be doing.

(Yes, kids, times were hard before the Internet.)

But bloody hell! It’s been years since I’ve even touched a book like that. I grew up with them, and even I regarded this old Maltin guide with a certain mixture of fascination and disbelief.

I realized that one day, I will need to explain the following things to my (as-yet hypothetical) children about what books were like, back when the things were made from mashed-up tree pulp instead of mashed-up electrons:

1) If a reference book attempted to be comprehensive in any way, and it was essential that the information be presented in any kind of a logical, linear order, then you couldn’t update the book without republishing its entire contents. If it was an annual book — like an almanac — all existing unsold copies had to be scrapped when the new edition was released. They almost immediately became unsalable.

2) Why not simply release a slim addendum? Because the information needed to be presented in a logical, linear order: searching had to be done by hand. Many people would cling to the same dictionary editions they’d had since college, simply because they were so familiar with it that if they needed to look up a word like “preternatural” they could instinctively open it to almost the right page. Even so, lots of page-flipping and scrutinizing was necessary.

3) The cost of producing the book was directly related to how many pages needed to be printed. So if a book with lots and lots of content was being prepared for mass-market sale, steps needed to be taken to control the page count. Simetimes, drastic measures were necessary, like tiny, tiny printing and tissue-thin paper.

4) If a book needed to contain more content, the publisher couldn’t simply make the book’s “footprint” bigger. They had to pack neatly into shipping boxes of a certain size, and when they arrived at the bookstores, they needed to be stocked on shelves of a certain size. So usually, the only solution was to simply add more pages.

All of these factors sometimes led to the sort of item you see in that photo: a practically a solid cube of paper. If that book were any thicker, it’d roll away from you when you dropped it.

I remember a multi-page magazine ad that Microsoft took out some ten years ago when they launched their Microsoft Reader format. A timeline ran across the bottom of the ad, dictating how the future of publishing was definitely going to go, now that they’d crashed this Connecticut-sized meteor into the middle of the dinosaur habitat. Oh, Microsoft wasn’t too terribly confident. According to the timeline, it wasn’t going to be until 2005 (if I recall correctly) that “Most books are purchased and read electronically; physical books are only printed in special ‘gift’ editions for special occasions.”

We all had a good laugh about that. Even today, electronic distribution of books is mostly like an awkward office party that everybody shows up for but which nobody really participates in. “Your $12 book is a bundle of electrons that you can’t read until you spend $200 more for a whole new gadget” goes down about as well with the general population as “You know that group of toner-huffing morons you work with? Well, once or twice a year you’re expected to socialize with them on your own time. Oh, and your boss and all of your boss’ bosses will be there too, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities to commit career-limiting blunders, both real ones and ones that only exist in other people’s imaginations.”

But although the transition to digital publishing is happening slowly, it’s definitely happening. It’s a fascinating thing to watch. And the technology is the dull part. What’s interesting is the shift in perception.

You know how sometimes you turn off a certain cognitive section of your brain and force yourself to see a word not as a piece of language with meaning, but as a sequence of black shapes and white spaces? It’s like you’re seeing that image for the very first time and suddenly “bird” seems like a very odd collection of squiggles.

I’ve been buying all of my in-print books electronically for a couple of years now. Physical books aren’t weird to me yet. But damn, that old copy of the Maltin guide was a freaky and bizarre object. It’s the first time I looked at a book and didn’t see a container for information. I saw dead wood.

(Oh, incidentally: the movie was 1989’s “Breaking In,” co-starring…hmm. No, the writer and director are the only other names you’d recognize.)



Kindle 2 Review is up! And: Bonus Screenshots

My Kindle 2 review is up on the Sun-Times site for your glorious edification. I thought some of you might also like to see a few screenshots of the K2 in action.

First page of my library. Here be all your books & papers.

First page of my library. Here be all your books & papers.

Basic reading. This is a Fast Company article that Stanza downloaded and converted to Kindle format.

Basic reading. This is a Fast Company article that Stanza downloaded and converted to Kindle format.

Okay, let's go do some web surfin'. Menu...ACTIVATE!

Okay, let's go do some web surfin'. Menu...ACTIVATE!

There's a working, JavaScript-enabled browser in the "Experimental" menu. Send up the kites!!!

It's a perfectly fine browser, but it works best with a site's "Mobile" edition.

Google Reader might justify the cost of the Kindle all by itself. It turns every blog into a Kindle-friendly format, easy as pie.

Google Reader might justify the cost of the Kindle all by itself. It turns every blog into a Kindle-friendly format, easy as pie.

Yes, you can even Twitter with it! The screen really isn't fast enough for long typing, but hey, it works!

Yes, you can even Twitter with it! The screen really isn't fast enough for long typing, but hey, it works!

Kindle 2 In The Housssse! (Diner, actually)

Happy Pancake Tuesday! AKA, the day before Ash Wednesday on the Catholic calendar. There’s also a tradition that before you start your Lenten sacrifices, you go off and have a rich, hearty pancake breakfast.

(Ha! See? I’ve just gone and proven that Richard Dawkins is just a big stupid idiot who’s head is filled with stupid! Next time he says nothing good ever comes from religion, spit in his eye. A good, maple syrupy-scented gob of spit.)

My UPS guy met me on the way out the door. And what did he have for me?

The Kindle 2!

So I kept my date with the diner. But I was Pancaking with my right hand while I was Kindling with the left.

Initial impressions:

1) Damn, this thing finally feels like a real, richly-designed consumer product. It’s metal, and has that MacBook Air vibe where the case tapers down into thin edges. You get the impression that it’s a lot slimmer than it actually is.

2) Hallelulia! That flimsy cheap plastic back-cover is now gone. The back actually looks like a generation-one iPhone…a vast, unmarked plain of brushed metal, topped by an inch of plastic (where the wireless antennas live, npo doubt).

3) The transition from your old Kindle to the new one is simple. Natcherly it knows who you are when it arrives. Click into a setup menu and it re-downloads all of the content you’ve purchased via the Amazon Kindle Store. But none of the docs or public-domain ebooks that you might have emailed into the device will show up…that’s on your shoulders.

4) WhisperSync works fine. I was in the middle of re-reading Michael Palin’s wunnerful Python Diaries on my Kindle 1 yesterday and when I clicked the book on the 2, it opened it to (almost) the page I was on.

5) Text-to-voice is…functional. As expected, it sounds like very, very good text-to-speech. I do think it’s more of a feature for people with vision problems than any sort of replacement for the audiobook edition of a title. But it’s perfectly understandable, if a little American Idol-ish vis a vis artistically and convincingly interpreting and performing a piece. The speaker’s kind of weak. I was in a not-at-all-busy diner and I had to hold it up to my head to really hear it. The speakers are flat on the bottom-backside of the device.

6) The new interface is a five-click joybutton instead of the rolling elevator. But the MO is mostly the same. Instead of having a separate LCD stripe on the side of the screen, the thing you’re about to click on is underscored with a line. It works fine.

7) The device is devoid of all but a single mechanical sliding switch, which powers it up when it’s off and wakes it when it’s asleep.

8) I might have to take back my longstanding complaint about Kindle 1’s paddle switches for page turns. It annoyed me that I couldn’t put down the Kindle, take a two-handed bite of my sandwich, and pick it up again without being one or two pages away from where I was. The Kindle 2 has some conventional pushbuttons mounted flush with the surface of the device and I find that I have to push them with a little but of authority to get a buttonclick to register. Whereas the paddles on the K1 responded to a gormless flick of the thumb.

(I stress that this is a brand-new, out of the box device. So it’s possible that the K2’s page-turn buttons haven’t been broken in yet. It’s also possible that I’m just used to the feather-touch of the K1. But let it be noted that it’s the first thing that struck me as a step back, after a whole 21 minutes of experience with the Kindle 2).

(Added: Now I’ve been reading with it for about a half an hour. A little experimentation indicates that the “most clicky” part of the button is the edge nearest the screen. Now I’m finding it much more comfortable to use.)

9) The tech specs say that the display has been upgraded. But it’s a subtle thing. I don’t find it any more readable than the Kindle 1’s perfectly-fine screen. The only spot where I actually noticed the improvement was in the “sleep” wallpapers. So now these dead publishers’ faces are smoothly-shadded instead of stippled. Which is a win; it was kind of creepy to glance and think “Wow, Harriet Beecher Stowe really needs a shave.”

10) Damn…the “standard as hell” USB connector on the bottom of the K2 is now a “Crap! I forgot to pack the cable that charges my Kindle!” connector.

My full review for the Sun-Times will come in a couple of days. My overall first impression is that this is a step forward.

Hey, photos!

The only way to kill it is with a Ticonderoga #2 through its heart!

The only way to kill it is with a Ticonderoga #2 through its heart!

One click installs all of your K1's purchased content to the K2.

One click syncs all of your K1's purchased content onto your new K2. Note "underscore" highlighting of the item you're about to click.

From back to front: Kindle 1, Kindle 2, YUM.

From back to front: Kindle 1, Kindle 2, YUM.